Extending a lifeline to urban poor communities
Nila Serrano had been successfully operating her carinderia or food stall in Payatas for over 13 years, welcoming an average of 100 customers a day before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, slashing her customers to as few as 25 a day.
Serrano was fortunately thrown a lifeline by the Project Karinderya program that Kabuhayan sa Ganap na Kasarinlan Credit and Savings Cooperative or K-Coop, of which she is a member, launched at the height of the devastating public health crisis in 2020.
Through this unique program, some 200 households in each of the chosen urban poor communities were given vouchers that they exchanged for safe and nutritious food prepared by a cluster of carinderias in Payatas, Fairview and Commonwealth in Quezon City, that in turn continued to earn an income despite the pandemic.
Serrano happily shares that the mutually beneficial arrangement even increased her income by 50 percent, allowing her to expand and set up a noodle house to attract new customers.
“Malaki ang aking pasasalamat sa K-Coop at sa iba pang mga organisasyong tumulong sa amin dito sa Payatas,” she added.
(I’m very grateful to K-Coop and other organizations helping us here in Payatas)
Project Karinderya is just the latest in the series of programs conceived and spearheaded by K-Coop, which was registered in 2016 to help improve the quality of life of its members in urban and peri-urban communities through credit and savings programs and services.
K-Coop is a proud part of the Kasagana-ka Synergizing Organizations and was spun-off from Kasagana- ka Development Center, Inc. to clearly separate the social development from the income-generating programs.
“Naisip na kasi ‘nung 2014 na if we want empowerment, then the model is not just microfinance but a cooperative so that the beneficiaries will own the operations. Dapat sila ang may-ari, balik sa kanila yung kita nila from their interest in the share capital and then the patronage refund,” says former K-Coop General Manager Maria Anna De Rosas-Ignacio.
(We thought in 2014 that if we want empowerment, then the model is not just microfinance but a cooperative so that the beneficiaries will own the operations. They should be the owner, earning from the interest in the share capital and then the patronage refund.
But while the cooperative is very much a for-profit organization, it does not stray from its social development roots.
This is why K-Coop jumped at the opportunity to join hands with other civil society organizations looking to go into food distribution to help those badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic during the early days.
“Sabi namin tamang tama kasi yung resulta ng survey namin noon eh ang daming nagugutom na mga members and marami ring walang hanapbuhay. Tapos meron na ring concept noon ng super carinderia, ‘yung turuan ang mga nanay to distribute food. We just tweaked that concept tapos naging Project Karinderya,” De Rosas-Ignacio said.
(The collaboration is necessary because the results of our survey indicated that many households are suffering from hunger and joblessness. There’s also this super carinderia project that teaches mothers to distribute food. We just tweaked that concept to become Project Karinderya.)
K-Coop was prepared for the vital task because it knew where the carinderias and the needy communities were, so it was uniquely positioned to get the nutritious food to where it was needed, and fast. It knew that the most vulnerable communities simply did not have time to wait.
And so, K-Coop forged ahead, clustering 10 carinderias per community with the mandate to provide 20 customers each with one nutritious meal a day worth P50 for 30 days. A total of 46 clusters were set up, involving a total of 410 carinderias (some karinderya clusters did a repeat to cater other beneficiaries), with each cluster servicing 200 people using funds coming from partners such as the Peace and Equity Foundation.
“PEF always comes in the beginning. They were one of the first to give us the needed funds that came up to PhP300,000 per cluster, that’s for 200 people for 30 days,” she said.
Other partners such as Jollibee Foods Foundation, meanwhile, taught the nanays about pricing, food handling and customer service while K-Coops sister organizations pitched in by going into the communities to help ensure the proper implementation of the groundbreaking project that lasted for some two years, until March 2022.
De Rosas-Ignacio said Project Karinderya was inspiring because of the partnership among NGOs and people’s organizations who are bound together by a common aspiration to help the less fortunate, and to do it in a way that truly involves the communities.
“‘Yan talaga ang approach namin, binababa sa community. Sila ang naghahanap ng paraan, ng solution. I-connect lang namin sila sa resources. We have a general concept but the action, the communities do it all,” she said.
(That has been our approach, involving the community. They look for ways and solutions. Then we connect them to resources they needed. We have a general concept but the action, the communities do it all.)
Project Karinderya was such a success that it led to the launch and rollout of the Project Singkong Sabaw, in that those interested were given a starting fund of some PhP2,500 to sell nutritious and delicious soup at just PhP5 a serving.
The challenge was to come up with a great product at a price that was set to make it affordable to as many people as possible. And K-Coop is happy to report that a number of intrepid microentrepreneurs among its ranks rose to the occasion and earned from the Project Singkong Sabaw that was made possible in part by the support of PEF.
PEF is one of the earliest partners of K-Coop, which has grown over the years to 48,000 members, almost all of whom are women. Most of them reside in urban poor communities, mainly relocation sites of former informal settlers, earning about PhP10,000 a month.
Before the pandemic, over 99 percent of the borrowers paid back their loans on time. But this dove during the pandemic as the K-Coop staff members were unable to go to the communities to collect payments because of the strict mobility restrictions. This led to an operating loss as it continued spending for overhead despite the pandemic.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic on the wane and the gradual return of normal activities, K-Coop has been able to make up for lost time and resumed its vital savings and loans operations that are crucial to the members such as 46-year-old Gina Gadaingan of Payatas.
She is a single mother with six kids whom she is raising with the earnings from her small businesses including a canteen and a sari-sari store. All these she was able to establish with the help of her loans from K-Coop.
“Yung unang PhP5,000 loan nagamit ko para makapagbenta ng bayong sa mga palengke. Nabebenta lahat. Ganoon talaga pag marami kang anak, dapat meron kang plano,” said Gadaingan, who was introduced to K-Coop by her neighbors who were also members of the grassroots savings and loans cooperative.
(The first PhP5,000 loan was used to sell bayong. They always sell out. You need to have a plan if you have many kids.)
Because she religiously met her loan payments, she was able to borrow bigger amounts, to the point that she is on her 10th loan cycle that entitled her to borrow PhP145,000, of which half went to securing a right to put up her own house in the community complete with furnishings.
“Napakaswerte ko sa K-Coop. Makakapagpatapos rin ako ng aking mga anak,” she said.
(I’m lucky to be with K-Coop. My children will graduate in their studies.)
Her story is just one of the thousands of stories of renewed hope and progress among the growing legion of members of K-Coop, which is open to anyone who can invest at least PhP100 to get a share. It thrives on microfinance, which means members get microloans.
The difference though is that the earnings from the microfinance operations go back to the cooperative, entitling the members to a share in any profit posted at the end of the year.
“The ambition is to be able to bring up the membership to 100,000 members. You need the big numbers to make the organization sustainable. That is part of risk management. It is always a numbers game to strengthen the organization,” she said.
She considers PEF instrumental in the strengthening of K-Coop, which traces its roots to 1985 when the Foundation for Development Alternatives (FDA), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) actively engaged in community-based organizing, capability-building, advocacy, and networking for urban poor concerns, started its Alternative Socio-Economic Program (ASEP) with around 200 beneficiaries in the municipality of Sapang Palay in Bulacan.
The ASEP eventually became the Kasagana-ka Development Center Inc that then evolved into a formal microfinance institution in 2002. It quickly grew from strength to strength with the financial support of PEF, which extended the funds it needed to be relent as microloans to its beneficiaries.
By 2013, KDCI’s client-beneficiaries had increased to 22,000 with a net worth of about PhP80 million due to its various loan products that covered the target communities’ basic needs from health to housing, insurance protection and livelihood.
It was at that time when KDCI’s Board of Trustees started exploring the possibility of establishing a cooperative, born out of the desire to return most of the financial benefits of the microfinance operations to the client-beneficiaries. Thus in 2016, K-Coop was established, taking on most of the microfinance and economic support initiatives that KDCI had been implementing since its inception.
Today, De Rosas-Ignacio said K-Coop has five program pillars: health, shelter, social protection, education and environmental sustainability. And these it wants to strengthen through the power of partnerships that it appreciated as Project Karinderya was rolled out.
“Because of the pandemic, we learned the value of tie-ups with other civic organizations and the LGUs. We need to become more serious about it. Sanay kasi kami ng sariling kayod because of COVID, we saw that with partnerships, we were able to do well, with CSO collaboration, and with PEF again. So itutuloy tuloy namin ang mga tie-ups and collaboration,” she said.
(Because of the pandemic, we learned the value of tie-ups with other civic organizations and the LGUs. We need to become more serious about it. We were able to adapt because of COVID, and we saw that with partnerships, we were able to do well, with CSO collaboration, and with PEF again. We will continue these tie-ups and collaboration.)
And that spells only great news for the current and future members of K-Coop.